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Language teaching theories and methods

Teachers' beliefs about language teaching and learning are expressed through the approaches and methods adopted for their language classroom. The history of language teaching has been characterised by the search for the most effective method and more often than not, one new approach replaces the previous ones and becomes a reigning orthodoxy. In the United States, as a reaction to the behaviourist view of language learning, a communicative approach to L2 teaching has been prevalent since the end of the last century, replacing the traditional language teaching methods such as audio-lingual and grammar-translation (Kissau, Algozzine, &Yon, 2012; Lee & Van Patten, 2003; Richards & Rogers, 2000). However, as noted by Kumaravadivelu (1994), although there are very few teachers of other languages that will openly confess to holding views that are contrary to the reigning orthodoxy, there is widespread evidence that their classroom practices are at variance with their beliefs (p. 11). Empirical studies also lend support to this statement. For instance, recent studies in the United States show that there is a growing consensus among language teachers about the beliefs of effective L2 teaching (Bell,

2005; Brown, 2009) and these shared beliefs approach 'the ideal of the communicative classroom, where students communicate about meaningful topics, complete real-world tasks, use computer-based technology, engage with the language outside of class, gain exposure to the culture in class, and work in groups or pairs' (Brown, 2009, p. 54).

Yet some researchers working with more diversified groups of teachers, such as Chinese and Japanese, have identified differences and disagreement in the beliefs about effective L2 teaching (Levine, 2003; Schulz, 2001; Kissau, Algozzine, & Yon, 2012). For example, the debate on the timing of teaching characters to beginning learners of Chinese remains in the field of teaching Chinese as a foreign language (TCFL) (See Liu, 1983; Packard, 1990; Ye, 2013). According to Ye's (2013) study, the 'delayed character introduction (DCI) model is derived from the belief that literacy is acquired subsequent to speech or/and the heavy cognitive load for the student to learn listening, speaking, reading and writing at the same time'. Teachers who take an 'immediate character introduction' (ICI) model tend to believe that characters are an essential aspect of Chinese language and that learning characters from the beginning makes it less difficult in the long run (pp. 617-619). One of the findings in Ye's research is that no significant differences were found between native speaker instructors and non-native speaker instructors in terms of preference for the two models, which contradicts the view that cultural orientation is the determinant factor for teachers' pedagogical choice.

Resistance to CLT in Asian countries (mostly in English language classrooms) has also been well-documented and explained by different contextual factors, such as the educational habits of Asian cultures (Hu, 2002). Investigating the potential clash between the instruction of Chinese teaching assistants and the culture of learning of US students, McGinnis found that one potential area for conflict is in the value Chinese teachers place on the accurate use of language versus the value American students place on creative language use. He attributes this difference to divergent 'cultures of instruction' (1994, p. 16).

The dichotomisation of CLT and grammar-translation approach has been a recurrent theme in the studies of transnational English language teaching and learning. The tension between these two language methodologies is highlighted with the argument that CLT embodies Western constructivist features of student-centred experiential, meaningful, and authentic communication, with little conscious attention to form, while grammar teaching is focused on linguistic forms, prescriptive and analytical language, emphasising repetition and accuracy, as well as the teacher-centred classroom with presentation, practice, and production

(PPP) (See Ellis, 2003; Peacock, 1999, 2001; Rao, 2002; Savignon & Wang, 2003; Yang, 1999). There are many terms to contrast these two approaches, such as 'get it right in the end' or 'get it right in the beginning' (Lightbown & Spada, 2006), 'experiential learning' and 'analytical learning' (Harley, 1991; Johnstone, 2002). However, according to Johnstone (2002), teachers' good practice in language classrooms should activate both experiential and analytical learning modes and avoid the dangers of allowing one to dominate the other.

In language education, the last decade of 20th century has seen the development of the so-called 'the post method' era (Kumaravadivelu, 1994, p. 30) of not seeking the best method but rather a time of discovery and rediscovery of language teaching appropriate for the learner in a specific context. Larsen-Freeman (2000) and Mellow (2000) use the term 'principled eclecticism' to describe a desirable, coherent, and pluralistic approach to language teaching involving the use of a variety of language learning activities, each of which may have very different characteristics and may be motivated by different underlying assumptions.

 
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